If you have ever made the swim or paddle to the Canadian flag that sits in the water off the shores of Northwinds Beach near Craigleith, you might be familiar with the attached plaque that reads, “In honour of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Raised each May by Bob and Robert.”
But, who are Bob and Robert and how do they plant the flag a kilometre from the shore?
“This flag takes a lot of work to go up,” said Town of Blue Mountains resident Pamela Spence who contacted CollingwoodToday with the details of the project.
Every May for almost 20 years, Spence has watched and assisted her husband, Robert Turner and long-time neighbour and friend, Bob Woodcock, brave the cool waters of the Georgian Bay in a canoe to erect a 22-foot flagpole.
“I thought it would be nice for the community to understand the story behind the flag,” Spence said.
Bob explains that the project began when he and another neighbour had removed a large tree from their property line.
“We both wanted the wood and we couldn’t decide whose property the tree was on. So, we said, okay, let's make a flagpole out of it instead. And, that's how we got started,” Bob explained.
Robert later joined the project to help plant the pole on the sandbar or small island that sits off the shore of Northwinds Beach.
Every year since the men have installed the flag before the May long weekend and removed it at Thanksgiving before the freeze up.
“We are very proud of this endeavour,” said Robert, adding that the flag has (unintentionally) become a navigational beacon for those who frequent the waters often, as well as a destination for visitors.
“It's a point of destination off of Northwinds Beach. People kayak out to it and they’ll tie their kayak around the pole, and then they'll swim off of it. We have so many people that comment about how much they enjoy the flag,” he said.
“I've watched from my property with binoculars and a lot of people take selfies with it,” Bob laughed.
Over the years, the men have had to engineer and adapt the pole’s anchor and base system.
“We took two steel rods, pounded them down into the cracks in the shale and binded that with chains and a bolt and then put four legs,” explained Bob. “But, it couldn't withstand the rough waters. You can't really underestimate the power of water and ice.”
The Bay has certainly presented challenges for the duo, from wild winds and waves to ever-increasing water levels.
Since the initial installation of the flagpole, the water levels in the Bay have risen dramatically.
In the early years, the men had been able to paddle out to the island, anchor their canoe and work on dry land.
Fast forward to 2020, where the pair found themselves in chest-deep waters with hip waders on for three hours in an effort to plant the pole and raise the flag.
“Now that the water is so high we actually have a step ladder to get back into the canoe because once you're in chest-high water it is pretty difficult to get back in,” Robert said.
“We've also learned things along the way, like tying a rope and attaching the tool you need to you,” he laughs, reminiscing about the time he had to bend over and pick up a tool that had fallen underwater, inadvertently filling his hip waders to the brim.
The pair describe the project as a labour of love, with new challenges being presented every year.
This year the flag’s season was cut short as the pole was taken down by rough waters over the September long weekend.
“It's not just the high water. It's the wind. It was very calm this time yesterday and then within 24 hours it's raging wild water,” added Spence.
After the flag fell and recovery efforts were managed, the men began strategizing on next year’s design, which they hope will last for many more years to come.
"Next year we have to install a new design, which will consist of a wire basket filled with rocks to create a base and the flag will slip into the middle of it... that way, the flag will be able to be taken out and the base will stay over the winter because it will be far enough down that the ice won't take it away," Robert explained.
"Rob and I are very determined individuals, I would say, and we're determined to make sure that flag stays out there," Bob added.